“If they (same-sex couples) ask for some blessings, why not?” said Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, in western Germany, responding to questions from journalists at the Vatican.
The bishop, one of the vice presidents of the European Union’s Commission of Bishops’ Conferences (Comece), had been received by the 84-year-old pope along with other members of the delegation.
He was asked by reporters to comment on the more than a hundred Catholic churches across Germany who in May held wedding ceremonies open to “all those who love each other”, whether gay, lesbian or heterosexual.
Part of the “Love Wins” grassroots initiative launched by priests, deacons and volunteers, the organised blessing of same-sex couples came in direct defiance of the Vatican.
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In March, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican body that defends Church doctrine, issued a note reaffirming that homosexuality is “a sin” and confirming that same-sex couples cannot receive the sacrament of marriage.
“We are a pastoral church for all its members, also for homosexuals,” said Overbeck, 56.
“The Pope is a pastoral pope, he told us that we must do what serves the people, so we do it.”
‘Cannot bless sin’
Overbeck said he was concerned about the dwindling number of priests in theChurch today.
In Essen, he said, about 20-30 priests die each year, yet only about one or two are ordained, a problem that could be solved were the Church to allow married priests.
“There are likely some well educated men, even married, who could do this service,” he said.
The Church considers that marriage is exclusively the union of a man and woman.
Early in his papacy, Pope Francis took an unprecedented welcoming tone towards the LGBT community, making the now-famous “Who am I to judge?” remark about gay people trying to live a Christian life.
But although he has said he approves of civil unions for same-sex couples, he has not gone so far as to give his support to the Church blessing same-sex couples.
The CDF, which was set up in 1542 to hear heresy cases, said in its refusal in March that although same-sex unions might have “positive elements,” they could not be blessed within the church as the union is “not ordered to the creator’s plan.”
While God, it wrote, “never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world… he does not and cannot bless sin”.